Awards,  Dinner

Spinach Stuffed Shells and an Award!

Do you ever experience a period of time when you just can’t get caught up?  As I mentioned before, I’ve been very overblessed lately with a lot going on.  And I do want to apologize to all my “friends” out there for my not visiting you all as often as I like to.  I’m certain my life will resume to its normal busy routine very soon… I do hope.

Yet, I’m one of those people who constantly take on more and more.  It doesn’t matter how many times I’ll say or feel that enough is enough; I’m the one that when offered an opportunity, jumps right in.    Someone recently mentioned to me that how at the day when they relax in front of the TV, I’m still going either baking or cooking, going for a walk or bike ride, doing chores, working on a project…etc, etc!  Ouch..I suppose that it is true about me!

Which leads me to the Food Bloggers Unplugged Award I received from Granny at Grannys Parlour.   She mentioned that I write about food like every dish is an exotic dance!  I just love that Granny!  This is indeed a thought-provoking award as the recipient is challenged to answer several questions about themselves.  I thank you Granny and hope anyone new to Grannys Parlour will stop to visit her; she’s a gardener, creative chef, product tester and all around unlimited source of knowledge.  (I stole her words as that is exactly what I find in reading her posts!)

(If you’re hungry for a great recipe, simply pass by all the Q&As and you’ll find my Spinach Stuffed Shells recipe below!)

 So, who is Spicegirlfla anyway??…. Food Bloggers Unplugged

1. What, or who inspired you to start a blog?

It was my daughter, as many of you already know, that inspired me to start this blog.  When she left for college, specifically moving off campus into an apartment, she began asking for some of my recipes and I began thinking about how I could best give these to her.  Since I knew she follows hundreds of fashion blogs, the idea to create my own blog would fit in easily to her lifestyle and she’d smile seeing her mom online!

2. Who is your foodie inspiration?

I cannot think of one person as I’m am inspired every where I go; restaurants, coffee shop or bakery, cookbooks galore and watching all the Food TV chefs.  I am particularly drawn to Michael Chiarello with his relaxing, casual way of cooking Italian food and his Napa Valley twist is definitely one of my favorites.

3. Your greasiest, batter-splattered food/drink book is?
Greasiest?? Batter splattered book???  Oh no…never!!  Honestly, I must have about 300 cookbooks.  And I cherish each and every one of them.  I’ll make notes on the pages, changes I’ve made, who I’ve made it for, comments on likes and dislikes, etc.  BUT, I never let them get dirty nor are they out while I cook.  They are more for inspiration, for curling up in my favorite chair and reading.  (Of course, baking requires specific amounts; I mostly bake biscotti and cheesecakes so those I have pretty much down pat!)

4. Tell us all about the best thing you have ever eaten in another country, where was it, what was it?
Oh my….I’ve never left the country…how sad is that!  Believe me, it’s my dream one day to do so and Italy would be my dream come true trip!

5. Another food blogger’s table you’d like to eat at is?
Just one??  That’s too hard, I’d much rather plan a progressive dinner party!  Starting with a cocktail with Jed and Liz at Sportglutton while getting updated on sporting events, followed by appetizers and a stroll through the farmy with Cecilia at The Kitchens Garden, an Italian family dinner with John at From The Bartolini Kitchens and a to- die-for dessert with Geni at Sweet & Crumbly.  (Don’t worry Geni, I won’t spend the night as I know you don’t like overnight guests, but I’m sure we will stay up very late chatting!!)

 6. What is the one kitchen gadget you would ask Santa for (money no object of course)?
A gas stove!  (that’s a big gadget!) But first, I’ll need relocate to a city that has gas…

7. Who taught you how to cook?
I’d say, of course, my mother, though she passed away when I was 16.  Through my memories and her handwritten recipe book, I’ve tried to recreate many of her dishes.  From there, I took classes at Loretta Paganini School of Cooking and personal chef training through the USPCA.  My very favorite training was with a chef that would take a small group of students from morning to night, shopping, dining and cooking together!

8. I’m coming to you for dinner what’s your signature dish?

I’m not sure I have a signature dish, but more a style of cooking.  You’d most likely have an Italian /Mediterranean dinner.  We’d start out with Prosecco or wine and anti pasta with grilled and marinated veggies, olives and Margherita flatbread.  A  gorgonzola salad with mixed greens and balsamic dressing is a favorite that brings back many memories for me.  My new love of mushrooms would have you enjoying Veal Marsala, sauteed spinach and a side of angel hair aglio olio pasta.  An espresso with a shot of liquor, biscotti and an Amaretto liqueur tiramisu.

9. What is your guilty food pleasure?
Gelato….any flavor…any time!

10. Reveal something about yourself that others would be surprised to learn?

I am a successful survivor of thyroid cancer and a firm believer that every day is special.  Each day presents itself as a new beginning and I am always thankful and grateful for all the blessings I receive every day.   I also feel that being with those you love, those that mean the most to you, is one of the most important things in life.

Finally…tag 5 other food bloggers with these questions…like a hot baked potato…pass it on…..

John, From the Bartolini Kitchens

Charlie at Hotly Spiced

Georgie at GeorgieCakes

Betsy at Bits and Breadcrumbs

Dudut at My Twisted Recipes

Congrats to you all….And, now to the recipe……

Stuffed shells have always been one of my daughter’s most wanted requests when she was growing up.  They also were one of my favorite dishes for family gatherings as they could easily be prepped ahead, even frozen for that matter, and baked just prior to the dinner or party.  For entertaining and family gatherings, I normally did not include the spinach, but when serving for dinner for my kids, I’d add it in as a way to sneak in veggies!

There’s definitely a lot of green going on inside these shells with 20 oz of spinach so it’s important the spinach is chopped small.  If you like a bit of spicy heat, I love to add in crushed red pepper but this time making it for my niece and daughter, I left it out.  We actually ate out almost every night that they were in town, so having these on hand in the fridge provided quick little bites whenever hunger hit.

Spinach Stuffed Shells

Approximately 25-30 jumbo pasta shells, cooked al dente

3- 4 cups homemade Italian sauce or jarred

2 cups ricotta cheese

1 egg, lightly beaten

2 10 oz packages of frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry (or prepare fresh spinach by quickly dropping in boiling water to wilt)

¼ cup sun-dried tomatoes, finely chopped

3-4 cloves of garlic, minced

Pinch of crushed red pepper, optional

2 teaspoons fresh basil, chopped

1 cup parmesan cheese, freshly grated (plus additional for topping and serving)

1-2 teaspoons Kosher salt and ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper (to taste)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  In a large bowl, combine the ricotta, well drained spinach, egg, sun-dried tomatoes, garlic and basil.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  Spread a generous amount of sauce on the bottom of a 13 x 9 pan, or as I did, two or three smaller pans.  Fill each shell with about 2 tablespoons of filling and place in pan.  Pour sauce over the shells, just enough to cover them, save remaining sauce to serve.  Sprinkle on additional parmesan cheese, cover loosely with foil and bake for about 30 minutes.  Let stand for about 5-10 minutes before serving.  Can be prepped up to the baking time and refrigerated overnight until ready to bake.  Serves about 8-10 depending on appetites.

I love being in the kitchen. Early mornings, soft music, a hot espresso. Easing into the preparation of delicious meals. Glancing through cookbooks, gathering inspiration and planning my day. I look forward to the cycles of the seasons, the pleasures of tasting and savoring and sharing this with those dear to me. Weekends are special to me as my week days are often rushed, but still I create the ambiance, light the candles, set the table and uncork the wine.


    • spicegirlfla

      You know I have a fond attraction for your life on the farmy! You are very welcome…and yes this is how you can stuff those shells!!

  • Caroline

    Ah, stuffed shells are my favorite, and yours look beyond delicious Linda! Really love that you added sun-dried tomatoes. I don’t use them in my recipe, but you bet I will next time! Oh, and I could seriously eat ricotta cheese straight out of the jar. So addicting! Congrats on the award. I would love a family dinner at John’s as well! 😉

    • spicegirlfla

      I too could eat ricotta right out of the container, even better with a bit of chocolate or something sweet swirled in…makes me feel like I’m eating dessert!

  • Tracy Wood

    Congrats on your award! You deserve it – you have a great blog. I love hearing that you are a cancer survivor! Awesome! Thanks for sharing so much of yourself today and thanks for the recipe.

  • Purely.. Kay

    Oh I can definitely see myself going to yourself for some veal :). I love veal. I loved reading your answers to these questions. And don’t worry about not visiting, real life catches up with us all.. including me this week lol

  • Barb Bamber

    I really enjoyed reading more about you today! I didn’t know you were a cancer survivor.. thank goodness that is in the past! I think you’re right.. every day is a precious gift!

    • spicegirlfla

      I hardly think of myself as such, but I guess I am. It was a process I had to get through, and did so very well!!

  • ChgoJohn

    Congratulations, Linda, and thank you passing me the “hot potato”. I’m honored that you’d wish to dine with us and it would be my pleasure to offer you a seat at the dinner table. Of course, I’d put out the call to get a number of the family to join us. And don’t forget your “I’m an Honorary Bartolini” T-shirt.

    Your shell recipe sounds wonderful. Adding the chopped sun-dried tomato is a great idea — one that I’m going to … ahem … “borrow”. I always make many more than needed and freeze them on cookie sheets before storing them. I like the idea of having stuffed shells as a spur of the moment meal.

    • spicegirlfla

      You’re it John!! I didn’t realize I’d get a t-shirt too! Wow, what a deal – dinner and a gift! You definitely can “borrow” anything as I’d be flattered to know you would. Great tip on freezing the shells. I think that’s a such a great way and will then allow you to individually take out how many you want, without removing the entire pan. I’ll “borrow” that tip from you!

  • betsyb

    Congratulations on this very well deserved award, Linda! And wow, thank you so much for including me in the “potato passing” with such fine company…so very kind of you, and I am truly very honored!

    Before I even read John’s comment above, I was thinking about what dish I’d make when I make his ricotta cheese…these spinach stuffed shells with the sun-dried tomatoes added sound like a perfect solution! I love that they can be frozen for later, too.

    • betsyb

      Meant to add that I really enjoying reading your answers and getting to know more about you and the happy fact that you’re a successful survivor. Your words are so true, we all need to enjoy each day and count our many blessings!

      • spicegirlfla

        Thank you Betsy. You are very deserving of this award and I look forward to learning more about you too! I’ve not made “John’s” ricotta yet…and shame on me! I really need to try it out someday. I’m sure its way better than store bought!

  • Kathy

    Linda, Congrats on your award! I enjoyed reading about your life…being grateful for every day your given is a good way to live! Your stuffed shells look wonderful!

  • Maureen

    Stuffed shells were my kids’ most requested dish too when they were in high school. I’d make enough for an army of kids. It’s amazing how much footballers can eat!

    I haven’t made them for a long time and it’s certainly time.

    congratulations on the award!

  • Allie

    Glad I’m not the only one who makes notes in cookbooks! Although mine have notes AND batter/oil splatters all over, so I guess we’re only halfway to having similar books 🙂

  • Sissi

    Linda, congratulations on the award! I have greatly enjoyed reading your answers. I also dream of a gas stove, but the building I live in doesn’t have gas either… I love your attitude to books. I also have lots of cookery books (but not as many as you although the collection grows) and I also try to treat them with attention and not leave greasy spots.
    I love your attitude to life, thank you for such a personal confession.
    The shells look fantastic! I never buy big shells and now I think I will start baking them. It looks like lots of fun!

  • sportsglutton

    You done it Linda…sent me over the top. I seen a few stuffed shell recipes over the past month or so, but after yours I can no longer contain my craving. Must have stuffed shells!! I’m telling Liz she needs to get on this ASAP! 🙂

    Congrats on the award too!

  • Lisa

    congrats on your award! It’s so much fun reading everyone’s response. I completely understand what you mean about being overly blessed. Last week I had to take a break from the computer……I couldn’t keep up and my body broke down.
    I look forward to checking out the other bloggers you mentioned ….I love Geni and I’m sure I’ll enjoy and love reading the other food bloggers posts.
    Great recipe and love how you sneaked in some spinach!

  • Kristy

    Loved this post Linda. It was a pleasure getting to know so much about you. We too have lots of thyroid issues (cancers, autoimmune disorders, hypos, hypers, etc.) in our family. I know exactly what you mean about each day being special. I always love reading your posts and am always truly in awe of just how much you do all the time. I for one am very happy you started this blog for your daughter and I no doubt will be trying this recipe! 🙂

  • chutneyandspice

    what a lovely post, I love the mentions of your mother and daughter. I think food is so firmly tied up with love, the two are inextricable. Hope life quietens down soon (not too much though, boredom is not good.)

  • Judy@Savoring Today

    Congrats on being “unplugged”! Fun to know you better! I appreciate how much we have in common. Thanks for introducing me to Granny’s Parlour, I am enjoying my visits there. Mmm, and those shells–I’ll throw a salad together and grab a fork! Yum!

  • Courtney

    I love reading these blogger unplugged posts – I feel like I get to know people better. I love that you started this for your daughter, what a great idea! And the shells looks quite delicious.

  • Chica Andaluza

    Ooh Linda – its good to be back and catch up with everyone. Your post bought a lump to my throat when I read what you´ve been through, but a smile to know you are a survivor! I hope that one day that dream trip to Italy becomes a reality for you. This is a fabulous recipe and althought we can´t get those giant pasta shells here, I am going to add them to my UK shopping list for when the next lot of visitors come over!

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